New arean proposed for Monroe Clark: “Where is the Money?”

By Robert Kenneth Wright

 

The Monroe City Council voted 4-1 on Tuesday night to introduce an ordinance that would move the idea of an upgrade to the current arena to the next stage. Council Chairman Mike Echols voted against introduction and Councilman Eddie Clark voted to introduce the ordinance only threatening to not vote on the final introduction if the City can’t produce a funding source for the proposed $90 million project.

“I’m not for putting the cart before the horse as it relates to spending over some $800,000 on architectural plans before we know where the funding source for this $90 million arena will come from,” said Councilman Clark.

Clark said that he was not against the idea of an arena but wanted to be able to tell his District 5 constituents where the money would come from.

“I still have people in my district still not in their homes from the flood last year. There is a need for direct economic development in South Monroe, quality of life here in Monroe, as I shared with the Mayor yesterday, in no uncertain terms, sucks because we don’t have things for people to do on the weekend. Most of us have to fly out and drive out just to enjoy ourselves, so I just feel as though at this particular point in time $800,000 could be better spent somewhere else as it relates to a direct impact on our city,” Clark said.

Council Chairman Michael Echols and Councilwoman Ezernack both had concerns with the ordinance. Echols said that he wanted to include local firms in the process. Ezernack, after hearing from M3A Architecture, said that she had a better understanding of the plan and she eventually voted to introduce the ordinance.

Councilman Kenneth Wilson had no objection to the ordinance nor asked any questions. However, Councilwoman Juanita Woods said that no new projects could ever thrive in the city if it did not take a risk and try new things.

“We need something like this in the area. I think about the airport. The same kinds of conversations were being generated in replacing the airport. Right now, this airport is something we’re proud of. It’s brought a lot of business and I’m proud to fly Monroe. I definitely want to know where the funding is coming from and I know that every project that comes, there has to be financial recognition. But you’ve got to step out there and take a chance on it too. You’ll never know the economic impact it’s going to have,” Woods said.

Mayor Jamie Mayo said that it was rightfully so that council members would have concerns. He said that it’s his responsibility as mayor to bring projects to the city that will take it to the next level.

“We did that with the public safety center and with the airport. Quite frankly there were a number of folks trying to talk us out of doing it. Some people said that we didn’t need to do a new airport and that we needed to do a renovation. I was very candid about the things that I feel. Even though Mr. Wright (Free Press reporter Robert Wright) indicated that it was an upgrade, it was not an upgrade. It was a brand new airport. So that was not correct that you mentioned in your paper,” Mayo said.

Even though representatives from M3A Architecture firm were at the meeting answering questions, there was not an answer to Councilman Clark’s question of the source of funding for the project. Mayor Mayo echoed their sentiments and said that he didn’t know either.

“How much do I know about how much its going to take and what those numbers are. I don’t know myself because we don’t have the expertise, my staff doesn’t have the expertise but we have professionals who have the expertise that can put this together. But as I listen to this it’s like dejavu. I remember these same type of comments during the time when we were trying to construct an airport that now you can’t find anyone that was against it,” Mayo said.

How did Monroe fund the Current Arena?

In November of 1962, voters of Monroe passed a series of propositions for public improvement bonds that funded not only the Civic Center and Auditorium, but also the construction of City Hall, the City Court, and the Terminal at Selman Field.

According to records from the vault of the Monroe City Council, of the five propositions presented to the citizens, Proposition 2 dealt with the funding of the arena. It proposed to incur debt and issue bonds to the amount of $4.65 Million ($37.29 Million in 2017 dollars) to run 30 years for the purpose of constructing an Auditorium and Civic Center for the city. This proposition received 2,287 votes in favor and passed.

Shortly after the funding source was passed, the Monroe City Council adopted a resolution in February of 1963 to request assistance from the Louisiana State Highway department for the construction of an overpass over the Illinois Central Railroad and DeSiard Street at or near N. 6th Street. The resolution provided “whereas, in view of the fact that the completion of the Interstate Road I-20 in the Monroe area is now scheduled and the construction of the proposed Civic Center for the City of Monroe is imminent, it is obvious that congested traffic conditions presenlty existing in the “downtown” area of Monroe will become more acute.”

The arena will be built

“I do know that we walk by faith and not by sight. If you had the faith the size of a mustard seed, you can move mountains,” said Mayor Mayo. He said this project is another transformational project.

“I also believe that this group (M3A Architecture) has to tell us what those series of options are relative to financing. When they do that, then we will be able to make that determination,” he said.

“That arena is going to be built. It’s either going to be built in Monroe or it’s going to be built in West Monroe. If it’s built in West Monroe, someone is going to get blamed for something. It could be me, it could be the council, it could be whomever, but they’re gonna get blamed for it,” Mayo said. He said that he is confident in the architects that they will provide the necessary options to take the project to the next phase.